Police in Europe have arrested more than 100 people who allegedly stole more than $11 million in a years-long fraud operation that law enforcement officials have linked to an Italian mafia group.
Officials in Italy and Spain arrested 106 suspects who are accused of using phishing, credit card fraud and other cybercrime techniques in conjunction with drug trafficking and property crime, according to the European law enforcement agency Europol. Thieves used business email compromise schemes and SIM swapping — in which scammers take control of a victim’s phone number to steal sensitive information — before laundering the funds via a network of shell companies and money mules, police said in a statement Monday.
The bust is the latest evidence hinting at the extent to which established organized crime groups are adopting the methods typically used by hackers. While scammers are known to operate in loose crime rings in Russia, Nigeria and elsewhere, police in Europe increasingly have zeroed in on other gangs that use specific phone networks to securely communicate, for instance.
“This large criminal network was very well organized in a pyramid structure, which included different specialized areas and roles,” Europol said. “Among the members of the criminal group were computer experts who created the phishing domains and carried out the cyber fraud; recruiters and organizers of the money muling; and money laundering experts, including experts in cryptocurrencies.”
Police said that “most” of the suspects had ties to Italian organized crime groups named Camorra, a known drug syndicate operating through Europe, and Sacra Corona Unita, another criminal organization that specializes in money laundering and extortion.
Authorities conducted 16 home searches, froze 118 bank accounts and seized 224 credit cards and SIM cards, as well as point-of-sale terminals and a marijuana plantation.